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    • The Attack In Ottawa will be used to justify losing more rights
      Prime Minister Harper pretty much confirmed it: ‘Our laws and police powers need to be strengthened’ Yup.  Never let a crisis go to waste. I’m very sad that MPs and their staff were scared, and I’m sadder that a soldier lost his life.  But one attack does not justify increasing the police state.  However, if [...]
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Pro-choice hysteria

I saw Wendy Davis’s filibuster the other night and was ecstatic to see someone from the left, besides Hillary, actually forcefully defending a woman’s right to choose.  And then I witnessed all of the hysterical, emotional responses from the left blogosphere about just how incredibly awful it would be if we can’t get abortions at any point in time during a pregnancy, and despaired.

Both the right and the left seem to be hung up on something and it took me awhile to pin it down.  Here it is:

Pregnancy is a temporary condition. Motherhood is FOREVER.  

Neither side can get past the first part.  Pregnancy is temporary.  It has a finite duration.  There is definitely an endpoint and you pretty much know when that endpoint is coming so you can prepare for it in advance.

The right would like to extend that period indefinitely and insists that women become instant mothers from the moment of conception.  Women are supposed to love and feel nurturing feelings towards a temporary visitor.  Of course, that works for the right politically and economically on several levels.  Mostly, abortion is a political football and a defining issue for the right.  If the other side is for it, they’re agin it.  But they are agin it for economic reasons as well.  More women staying at home being mothers frees up more of the shrinking pie for the menfolk.  Amiright?  You know I am.  So all this romanticization of the fetus is designed to make mothers stay out of the workforce.  Let’s just be honest about that up front, OK?

The left seems to believe that pregnancy is forever.  It is not. It’s also not punitive or a death sentence.  It is what it is- a temporary condition, like many other temporary physical conditions. And no one can make you be a mother if you don’t want to be.  It is true that labor and delivery is painful, somewhat dangerous, time consuming and recovery can take awhile.  But putting your body through that pain and inconvenience does not make you a mother.  Sure, there are a lot of conservative assholes who would like to shame women for getting pregnant and if women are forced to endure shame for getting pregnant but not wanting to be mothers, that’s something we can definitely work on.  Think of it as a Gay Straight Alliance type activity.  If the state insists that women carry a pregnancy past the 20th week, it really should pick up the tab for that and forcefully prohibit employers from terminating employment of pregnant employees.  Where is that legislation?  Why aren’t women insisting on it?  Where is Wendy Davis when we need that kind of bill?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am strongly pro-choice.  I don’t think the state has an interest in what you do with your womb.  But I do kinda draw the line when the fetus is viable.  I’m not talking about when the fetus is compromised or has a genetic abnormality or when the woman’s health or life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest or when the person carrying the fetus is only a little girl or in cases where a previous legal abortion was unsuccessful. (let me see, have I covered all exceptions?  I think I have)  In those cases, I don’t have a problem with abortions extending beyond the 20th week.  And as for fetuses experiencing pain, I’d be very surprised if TEXAS can’t figure out a way of lethally injecting a human being without pain prior to removal from a uterus.  Please.  Governor Perry has done it 261 times.

BUT…

What one person may consider an unacceptable infringement of their time and persons may be a premature infant worth lifesaving measures to another.  At the point of viability, I have to apply my Good Samaritan test.  If I found a premature infant at 21 weeks gasping for breath at the side of the road, what would I do?  I think most of us would pick up that infant and rush it to the nearest neonatal intensive care unit.  I think I would have the same concern for the fetus who can survive on its own but is not yet gasping for breath.  The difference between an aborted fetus and a premature infant mandating special care is extremely thin at the age of viability.

For every infant, the dividing line between viability and non-viability is different and the call should probably go to a group of physicians.  The danger in that is that you might get a group of rightwing crackpots with an agenda.  But oddly enough, this is how they do it in some of the world’s most progressive countries and I’m assuming they’ve managed to avoid that scenario.  Sweden, for example, allows abortions only until the 18th week.  After that, you need to appeal to a panel of doctors who will make the call and they usually only do it in cases when the fetus or the woman carrying the fetus have some kind of health complication or abnormality.  Otherwise, I suppose, you’re denied an abortion and are back on that train until you reach your destination a few months later.

I don’t hear Swedish women or Norwegian women or Danish women screaming bloody murder or telling sob stories about how hard it is to carry a baby to term or whining that the state is not treating them as fully human simply because it makes them wait out a temporary condition and make some hard choices afterwards. Yes, adoption is a hard choice.  I’m not sure that it is a harder choice than aborting a fetus after 20 weeks though. Yes, they have a lot of social safety net options that we don’t, including socialized medicine.  Maybe we should focus on that instead.  Women who are forced to endure a temporary condition should be given all the support and medical services that women in Scandinavian countries get.  If they don’t want to continue on with motherhood, right wingers should be forced to stuff a sock in it.

But I don’t think there is any really good excuse for someone to wait until the 20th week to get an elective abortion.  Yep, I’ve heard that some ditzy women don’t know they’re pregnant until then.  For some reason, American women seem particularly prone to not knowing they’re pregnant until the fifth month.  The rest of the world seems to have gotten the memo but we haven’t.  I don’t hear any bloggers on the left attempting to explain that disparity.  There MUST be a good reason for why American women wait so fricking long to take a pregnancy test but no one has come forward to tell us why that is.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. It’s unfortunate but probably a lot more rare than we would like to admit.  I don’t know how those unfortunate who miss the deadline would react to a Good Samaritan test.  Probably not well.  But it is a temporary condition and if other countries have limits, especially countries with higher gender equality cultures, then imposing a 20 week viability test is probably not going to kill what little gender equality we have here in the US.

What WILL kill gender equality here is all the proscriptions and obstacles women face before that 20 week limit.  And I stand with Wendy on fighting that.  There’s no good reason why we are still living with bronze age tribal morality in the twentieth century.  That’s what is preventing women from being fully human and getting on with their lives after a temporary physical condition.

Getting justice for Assange without cheapening rape allegations

If I were the Swedish women who filed rape allegations against Julian Assange, I would be positively livid that the Swedish government didn’t do all that was humanly possible to make sure he stood trial in Sweden, was convicted in Sweden and spent all of the jail time that was coming to him in Sweden.

The fact that the Swedes are not guaranteeing that Julian Assange will not be turned over to (fall into the hands of, intercepted on the way, captured by a separate entity and turned over to, you imagine the permutations, use your imagination) the US once he is extradited to Sweden tells me everything I need to know about how seriously Sweden is taking the accusations of rape.

All you hyperventilating “feminists” who are screaming for Assange to be strung up by his balls even though nothing has been proven yet, should be outraged that Sweden is not absolutely committed to bringing Assange to trial in Sweden.

An accusation does not mean the guy is guilty.  Yeah, yeah, I know what you *feel* based on what you’ve read but you’ve only heard one side of the story.  It was a similar attitude that drove people over the edge in the Casey Anthony trial.  They just *feel* she’s guilty of murder.  Without evidence, they couldn’t convict her of a damn thing.  Maybe she did something, maybe she didn’t.  Anger and truthiness doesn’t make it OK to convict someone without a trial no matter how much you sympathize with the victims.  It is precisely the reason why we have due process and all that shit that the US threw out the window after 9/11.  Lynch mobs are unacceptable.  Innocent people can be hurt.  Oh, sure, to some of you, you just know that he did it because you automatically identify with the accusers.  But that’s not the way the law works.

If Sweden wants a trial for rape, if it considers the allegations to be serious and wants justice for the victims, it’s pretty easy to agree not to send him to the US.  If he turns out to not be guilty, offer him asylum in Sweden.  How hard is this??  What does the US have to do with a rape in Sweden?  The answer is- nothing.  The US wants to do to him what we do to other people who we want to punish without actually having to go through the bother of having a trial and presenting evidence.  I guarantee you that if Assange comes to the US, he’ll be treated like an enemy combatant, stuck in a jail indefinitely and never come to trial because his “crime” concerns state secrets that can’t be presented in court.  To be honest, none of us are safe from that kind of treatment.  It started under Bush but it got worse under Obama.  It’s yet one more reason why I will NEVER vote for Obama.  He violates every American standard of justice that I believe in.

I’m sure that it’s in the best interests of the US to whip up a frenzy over a rape and make it look like he has to answer to US, but such is not the case.  The issue is being deliberately confused so that even if Assange is found to have done nothing in Sweden, deep sixxing him in a US jail is going to look acceptable because he now looks like a rapist.  But that’s not justice.  If the Swedes want to try him for rape, let them try him for rape.  If the US wants to try him for accepting classified information, let them apply for extradition based on that.  But let’s not haul his ass off to jail in the US based on a crime that may or may not have happened in Sweden.

Apparently, this is how the Ecuadorans see the situation as well.

The fact that Sweden isn’t moving heaven and earth to guarantee that justice for the alleged rape victims happens in Sweden tells me everything I need to know about how whistleblowers will be treated in the future.  They’ll be accused of bestiality or pedophilia or rape.  And the disgust that will be provoked in the audience will be enough to make the whistleblower look bad no matter what they did.  The practice will become so common that it will become positively Soviet and people around the world will roll their eyes when another rape allegation comes out against a person who has gone afoul of the political system.

The people who are being denied justice right now are the alleged victims and their credibility will always be questioned because Sweden wouldn’t pursue the alleged perpetrator to face justice in Sweden and only Sweden.  It is Sweden that is trivializing and cheapening allegations of rape.

Comments are closed for this post.  People are not thinking rationally because they are angry.  I’m not interested in debating irrational, angry people, just like I don’t want to argue with a foaming at the mouth nutcase that wants to string up Casey Anthony.

Get a grip.  You’re not helping rape victims.  And if there are any comment planters in the audience, go peddle your wares elsewhere.

The Brits get a bit heavy handed with the Ecuadorians over Assange

The British are attempting to strongarm the Ecuadorian embassy in London into handing over Julian Assange, who sought refuge there earlier this year to avoid extradition to Sweden.  The BBC reports that Assange fears he will be turned over to the Americans if he’s extradited to Sweden on allegations that he sexually assaulted two women.

Ecuador was prepared to announce his asylum status tomorrow.  The Ecuadorians are not pleased, saying “We are not a British colony”.  You can watch a livestream here but it’s not very robust.  New Livestream here.  Judging by the previous lifestream, expect the authorities to jam the signal.

So, speculation anyone?  Katiebird, Marsha and I have been tossing this one around and here’s what we’ve got:

1.) The Ecuadorians are pretending to be outraged.  Otherwise, why not just give Assange asylum and then announce it, and not the other way around?

2.) The diplomatic cables were a big nothing burger.  Assange must be sitting on something big to make everyone so desperate to get their hands on him.  AND, one wonders why the Ecuadorians would offer Assange this much asylum.  He had to have given them information they found valuable.

3.) How many embassies in the world offer known rapists sanctuary?  That’s right, none of them.  So, either he’s not a convicted rapist or there’s something else going on here that is preventing Assange from facing charges of sexual offenses in Sweden.  Sweden.  We’re not exactly talking Afghanistan here.  He’s not going to be stoned to death.  If convicted (of what, we don’t know yet), his stay in a Swedish jail wouldn’t be so bad. It certainly wouldn’t be worse than staying trapped in an Ecuadoran embassy indefinitely. So, it’s not Sweden he’s afraid of.

4.) Why do the US and Britain think it’s ok to throw people in jail, deny them their rights and use the state secrets acts to prevent them from going to trial?  Is it for the PR value?  Do they get more bang for their buck by making average citizens terrified to step outside the envelope?

5.) Marsha wonders if he hasn’t been smuggled out already. Update: It seems like the British police units think he’s still inside the embassy.

Any other ideas?

Memo to David Brooks: Correlation Does NOT Equal Causation

David Brooks has a hilariously incoherent column in today’s Knee Jerk Times New York Times called The Limits of Policy, in which he comes very close to suggesting that ethnicity is destiny.

First Brooks presents unsourced data about a comparison between Swedes living in Sweden and and Americans of Swedish ancestry that supposedly demonstrates that people of Swedish extraction have similar life expectancies and poverty rates, despite the differences in public policies in Sweden and the U.S. Therefore, Brooks implies, government health and welfare policies makes no contribution to how well families and individuals do in a particular environment. According to Brooks, it’s really all about ethnicity and to some extent about where you choose to live within the U.S.

Of course Brooks claims he isn’t implying what we think he’s implying:

This is not to say that policy choices are meaningless. But we should be realistic about them. The influence of politics and policy is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.

Sure, David, “we should be realistic” when the Obama administration tries to force Social Security and Medicare cuts down our throats so that snooty top one-percenters like you don’t have to contribute any of your vast inherited wealth to the common good. And we should accept that if we happen to be in one of the high poverty ethnic groups, we need to realize that no matter what the government does, we’d have no hope of being middle-class anyway, right David?

Next Brooks offers some data from a new report from The American Human Development Project, A Century Apart: New Measures of Well-Being for U.S. Racial and Ethnic Groups. (PDF).

As you’d expect, ethnicity correlates to huge differences in how people live. Nationally, 50 percent of Asian-American adults have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of whites, 17 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics.

Asian-Americans have a life expectancy of 87 years compared with 79 years for whites and 73 years for African-Americans.

[....]

The region you live in also makes a gigantic difference in how you will live. There are certain high-trust regions where highly educated people congregate, producing positive feedback loops of good culture and good human capital programs. This mostly happens in the northeastern states like New Jersey and Connecticut. There are other regions with low social trust, low education levels and negative feedback loops. This mostly happens in southern states like Arkansas and West Virginia.

If you combine the influence of ethnicity and region, you get astounding lifestyle gaps. The average Asian-American in New Jersey lives an amazing 26 years longer and is 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree than the average American Indian in South Dakota.

Is that so? And what does all this have to do with Sweden and Swedish-American immigrants, pray tell?

Next, Brooks cites a book by University of Chicago sociologist Susan E. Mayer, What Money Can’t Buy. The book was published in 1997, so the research may be just a little out of date, but Brooks doesn’t mention that. Apparently Mayer used some kind of statistical method to figure out what would happen if you doubled the income of poor American families–increasing their household income from $15,000 to $30,000. She supposedly found that this increase in income would have almost no effect on factors that might contribute to a better life, such as reducing teen pregnancy and getting more kids to stay in school.

Brooks acknowledges that public policies can severely damage the prospects of a people. For example, if you murder, rape, and pillage indigenous peoples, like, say….the Native Americans, and then you take away their land and exile them to “reservations,” those people are going to have “bad outcomes for generations.”

And that’s really a shame, but based on Mayer’s “research,” there’s nothing government policy can do about it once those people are living in squalor. They just are, and we have to accept it.

The takeaway message from this mishmash of partially reported and poorly sourced academic research is that we are stuck wherever we find ourselves right now, and we should forget about trying to improve our quality of life through political activism. Finally, Brooks says “we should all probably calm down about politics” because we now know that public policy has little effect compared to “ethnic, regional and social differences.”

Alrighty then. But despite Brooks’ recommendation to “calm down,” I decide to investigate his sources.

I think I located Brooks’ source of the information on Swedes and Swedish Americans. It’s an article at “New Geography,” which offers “economic, demographic, and political commentary.” The article, written by Nima Sanandaji, who, like Brooks, is a fan of the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, is called Is Sweden a False Utopia? Here’s an excerpt:

A Scandinavian economist once stated to Milton Friedman: “In Scandinavia we have no poverty.” Milton Friedman replied, “That’s interesting, because in America among Scandinavians, we have no poverty either.” Indeed, the poverty rate for Americans with Swedish ancestry is only 6.7%, half the U.S average. Economists Geranda Notten and Chris de Neubourg have calculated the poverty rate in Sweden using the American poverty threshold, finding it to be an identical 6.7%.

Ironically, this points us towards the conclusion that what makes Sweden uniquely successful is not the welfare state, as is commonly assumed. Rather than being the cause of Sweden’s social strengths, the high-tax welfare state might have been enabled by the hard-won Swedish stock of social capital. It was well before the welfare state, when hard work paid off, that a culture with strong protestant working ethics developed.

Gotta love that old Protestant work ethic! Aren’t you nostalgic for the good old days when “hard work paid off?” As opposed to the last thirty years in the U.S. when wages have been pretty much stagnant while productivity has increased. Yep, hard work doesn’t pay off so well these days….

As I noted above, Susan Mayor, the sociologist who showed that giving poor families twice as much money wouldn’t change anything is also a denizen of the University of Chicago.

Finally, Brooks’ third source for his ethnicity-as-destiny thesis is the report from the Human Development Institute, linked above. This study used three measures of well being–health, education, and income–to calculate a “human development index,” a single number that represents quality of life.

The three components of the Human Development Index—longevity, knowledge, and income—are valued by people the world over as building blocks of a good life, and good proxy indicators are available for each. In the American Human Development Index, these components are weighted equally and are measured using the following
data:

A Long and Healthy Life is measured using life expectancy at birth, calculated
from 2006 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
and CDC WONDER Database.

Access to Knowledge is measured using two indicators: educational
degree attainment for the adult population age 25 and older; and school
enrollment for the population age three and older. The data come from the
American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 one-year
and three-year estimates.

A Decent Standard of Living is measured using median annual gross personal earnings, also from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 one-year and three-year estimates. These earnings figures are presented in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars.

These three sets of indicators are then combined into a single number that falls on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest.

The results of the study showed that, to no one’s surprise, quality of life or “well-being” differs greatly across racial and ethnic groups. Yes, there are lots of significant correlations between where you fall on “human development index” and race and ethnicity. But David forgot to tell us that there are also correlations between certain public policies and quality of life for the people who live under them. For example:

Policy and investment at the state level related to key human development areas, such as public education, the public health infrastructure, health insurance coverage, social services, income supports like state earned
income tax credits, and housing. There is a strong correlation, for example,
between state expenditure per pupil on public education and that state’s
score on the educational index.

Other important factors are jobs, industry, and “rates of unionization.” And within racial and ethnic categories, newer immigrants tend not to do as well as well established members of the same ethnic group. In addition, the authors point out that when people are in an ethnic group that has access to the power structure of a state, then tend to achieve higher levels of well-being. And finally racial segregation is correlated with lower levels of well being in specific ethnic groups, such as African Americans. From the report:

Washington, D.C., geographically a single city, contains within it two
completely separate, yet side-by-side, worlds, one home to whites experiencing
some of the highest well-being levels in the nation, the other home
to African Americans living, on average, drastically shorter lives, with less
access to educational and income-generating opportunities.

No kidding. But the authors don’t claim these differences have nothing to do with public policy, as David Brooks implied in his column.

What is Brooks really trying to say anyway? It seems to me that, in his snooty, above-it-all way, he is saying the same thing that those Arizona voters are saying, and what was accepted wisdom in the segregationist days–that if you belong to a particular ethnic group, there’s pretty much no hope for you. And you probably brought it on yourself through laziness or bad child-rearing practices or something.

In any case, you shouldn’t come crying to the government or wealthy elites like David Brooks. They have nothing to offer you, and even if they did try to help you out, it wouldn’t do you any good.

At the very least, someone needs to explain to David that just because two things are correlated–that there is some kind of association between them–doesn’t mean that one of those things caused the other thing. Even my Psych 101 students know that. So unless Brooks can show me an experiment where someone took hundreds of individuals from all the different ethnic groups and had them live out their lives in carefully controlled laboratory conditions, I’m not buying his dopey conclusions. And The New York Times should be ashamed to publish this drivel.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong mocks Brooks and the NYT. Matt Yglesias trips all over himself whiletrying to defend Brooks from DeLong.

Thursday: Japan or Sweden?

Planet Money discusses the Swedish model of bank nationalization in its latest podcast.  In 1994, Sweden went through its own financial meltdown.  In some ways, it sounds similar to what is happening here in the US.  The economy heated up and people borrowed and spent like there was no tomorrow.  That short term thinking turned out to be a big part of the problem.  Banks took a lot of risks and found themselves on the brink of insolvency.  In the end, Sweden nationalized its biggest bank.  It was very painful for taxpayers but in the end, the bank was restructured and everthing is hunky dory.

It sounds like Sweden got a grip on their problem and correctly diagnosed it more quickly than Japan did.  As you may recall, Japan tinkered around the edges, stimulated the economy but didn’t nationalize the banks.  The banks held onto their toxic assets hoping that they would be worth something someday.  It wasn’t until the crisis had dragged on for almost a decade before Japan got tough with the banks and the economy started to turn around.  But Japan has been in the news again recently.  Their economy is suffering once again because there has been a drop in exports.  That’s to be expected in a global economic crisis but I’m getting the impression that Japan is a little more vulnerable because of its lost decade.  There is something intrinsically not quite right.

Our present course seems to be dangerously close to the Japanese model than the Swedish model.  Tim Geithner has been painfully vague about how much control of the banks the public will have.  Maybe that’s to keep the stock market from tanking. It’s also true that Sweden didn’t try to nationalize so many banks.  Our problem is on  a much bigger scale.  But it is disturbing that the Obama administration came into office with so much confidence and so little advanced planning.

The second part of the podcast features Paul Krugman taking reader questions.   Finally, Paul is asked what his favorite blogs are.  Alas, The Confluence is not among them.  I know, I know, it was probably just an oversight but I was hurt nonetheless.  Paul, Paul, what do we have to do to get your attention?

{{sigh}}

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